Earth’s Ecosystems Could Be Radically Altered Thanks to Climate Change

New research details how the changes could make everyday life almost unrecognizable.

The Earth’s ecosystems were utterly transformed after the end of the last ice age: Sea levels rose, glaciers receded and global average temperatures soared. New forests grew where there was once just ice-covered ground, and savanna turned to desert. The more the temperatures increased in a particular landscape, the more dramatic the ecological shift, writes the Washington Post. 

New research shows that this is about to happen again. A sweeping survey of global fossil and temperature records from the past 20,000 years suggests that Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems are at risk of another, even faster transformation unless action is taken against climate change.

“Even as someone who has spent more than 40 years thinking about vegetation change looking into the past … it is really hard for me to wrap my mind around the magnitude of change we’re talking about,” ecologist Stephen Jackson, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, told the Post. Jackson was the lead author on the survey.

“It is concerning to me to think about how much change and how rapidly the change is likely to happen, and how little capacity we have to predict the exact course,” Jackson said, “which creates very large challenges for all of us out there who are trying to manage wildfire, fish, water, soil, endangered species—all those different ways in which natural ecosystems affect us.”

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